Zen and the Art of Grief

It’s Easter Sunday 2019. Despite Mayan predictions, 7 years post-apocalypse. 19 years post Y2K.

Time keeps on ticking, ticking, ticking……into the future.

Be here now. Live in the moment. The present is all we have. Mindfulness.

lotusoom

OOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMM.

The spirit is tired. The mind races, on and on and on and on, around and around it goes, where it stops, nobody knows.

This is the dance of grief. Past memories, future emptiness. Present loneliness.

Answers and comfort desperately sought, never found. Temporary escape in sleep and the cycle repeats.

Clarity beckons, and facing our own humanity becomes secondary to the pain. More questions, no answers. It remains a mystery.

Since the beginning of time, humans have sought the answer. Depending on where you were born and who your parents were, you may think you have it. Your god is the right god, the only god. The way, the truth, the light. Right.

You follow the rules, you perform the rituals, you teach your children well. you live, you die, you get your just reward or punishment. What happens next? Who really knows?

All we truly know is our human condition, and making sense of that is difficult enough without speculating on the afterlife. Religion can help, or it can hurt, or both.

When John died, I considered myself an atheist. At age 50, I stopped using. Religion. I got clean and sober – from religion. Hi, I’m Margie, and I’m a religion addict. I’ve been clean for 9 years.

I gave up dogma, rules, smells, bells, sacraments, holy days of obligation, saints, stigmata, apparitions. Christmas, Ashes, palms, Easter, Advent. Purple, gold, white, green. Body and blood. Virgin births, 3 kings, angels, loaves, and fishes, silly stories. Gone. The papacy, clergy, canon law, commandments no longer ruled my life. Fear and shame, Satan and all his deceptions, be gone !

Rather than replacing my addiction with another, as addicts do, I reveled in the cloud of unknowing, found peace and harmony in nature, delved into self-discovery and being good without god. Life was good.

Fast forward 6 years to the beast of cancer, death and grief. Uninvited and unrelenting, the pain just refuses to pack up and leave me alone.

Without religion’s crutch, how’s a girl supposed to stand her ground against the tide of tears and uncertainty ?

Ask and you shall receive. Seek and you shall find. You had the power all along, you just didn’t know it.

The power is LOVE. Simple yet profound. No need to complicate it. It is what it is. No book required. Just believe.

onelove

I’m a believer.

 

 

 

 

 

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You Should Be Dancin’ …….yeah…..

Recently a friend tried to help me by suggesting I go “clubbing”  I think I’ll pass.

Let’s take trip back in time to the disco era. It’s 1970 something. Polyester is king. Babysitting $$ spent at Lerner Shops in the Northgate Plaza. Flared high-waisted slacks, rust in color, and a button-down, skin-hugging long sleeved blouse in a garish pattern and I’m dressed for success. Add a pair of platform, a spritz of Love’s Baby Soft, slap on some Kissing Potion, and it’s Ladies’ Night, and the feeling’s right, oh yes it’s Ladies’ Night, oh what a night (oh what a night)

Burn Baby Burn (Disco Inferno) You can Ring My Bell – (ring my bell, ding dong ding dong) — That’s the Way (uh huh, uh huh) I LIKE It (uh huh, uh huh)

Guys with raging testosterone, even tighter fitting clothes, cheap cologne, solid gold Italian horn on a neck chain, driving a Corvette were everywhere, slinking around looking for a good time.

Again, I’ll pass.

Jump back in the time machine and it’s 2019 !!! WTH happened? 40 years have brought us into this Brave New World of technology. The Friday night phone call from your Mystery Date replaced by an impersonal and creepy “someone viewed your profile” on Match.com. Algorithms poorly imitate love at first sight.

And the beat goes on.

Welcome to the New Disco, the digital dance floor if you will. Now follow these steps:

  1. sort through dozens of sites marketed to the over 50 crowd
  2. find a free trial package and avoid the barrage of money-saving offers for a lifetime membership
  3. Invent a cute name
  4. Invent a cuter profile, complete with fascinating interests you never actually participate in.
  5. Download the cutest profile pic possible, carefully cropped, edited and retouched
  6. Wait approximately ten minutes for men at least 10 years older ( if they are not lying) than you to “like” your profile
  7. log off crying and go eat some ice cream.

Online dating, the quagmire of self doubt. fear, inadequacy for the aging, lonely, broken ex-disco queens. That’s another post, but it sure beats the “club scene”

At least pajamas and a cheap glass of wine are all that’s required to peruse this pathetic remnant of baby boomers.

No polyester allowed. Reading glasses and Aleve encouraged. Depends, dentures, pacemakers negotiable.

 

 

What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted

As I walk this land with broken dreams
I have visions of many things
But happiness is just an illusion
Filled with sadness and confusion
What becomes of the broken-hearted
Who had love that’s now departed?
I know I’ve got to find 
Some kind of peace of mind
Maybe
The roots of love grow all around
But for me they come a-tumblin’ down
Every day heartaches grow a little stronger
I can’t stand this pain much longer
I walk in shadowsm searching for light
Cold and alone, no comfort in sight
Hoping and praying for someone to care
Always moving and goin’ nowhere
What becomes of the broken-hearted
Who had love that’s now departed?
I know I’ve got to find 
Some kind of peace of mind
Help me
……………………………………………………………….written by Jimmy Ruffin
harlequinbodice ripper

Working circulation in a public library I checked out numerous romance novels to patrons. Originally published by Harlequin , the genre has evolved from chaste stories of good girls helplessly in love with their men to the bawdy and disturbing realm of S&M, as in the bestselling series Shades of Grey.

Somewhere between those 2 extremes lies a genre of romance novels playfully named “bodice rippers”, from the buxom woman and her Fabio look-alike lover depicted on every cover.

As a librarian, I never understood the appeal of any of these.  Not only were they poorly written, the predictable and repetitive storylines were boring. I couldn’t imagine anyone getting through the first chapter, never mind the whole book.
I actually felt sorry for women who read this trash. How lonely and sad must they be to crawl into bed with an imaginary duke/pirate/sea captain/castaway/plantation owner/ pioneer/ordinary Joe every night and immerse themselves in make believe love ?

At the time I was a happily married woman, enjoying the freedom of her empty nest and the wisdom that many years of marriage brought, with a husband who was the love of her life. I had enough romance and was blissfully satisfied. We had the kind of love, as a college friend used to say, “you read about.” The kind of love that grew stronger with time and would last forever.

 

 

Until death do us part. Which it did.

 

 

It’s been three years now. To summarize, it’s been a living hell. You can read all about it here in my blog.

 

This short little blog post doesn’t even scratch the surface of love. Not romantic love, yes , that of course is crucial. But the life-giving, soul-nourishing, all-encompassing, love that puts your beloved beyond all else. The center of your universe. Your reason for being. Your everything.

Living without that love, learning to be alone, accepting it and finding peace. Thinking about being alone forever. Wondering if love will come again.

Tall order. Suffice it to say that I’m still working on all of that.

In the meantime, my heart is on sabbatical. Out of order. Not taking new patients. Not ready for prime time. Nothing to give, too needy. Temporarily out of order

 

heart out of order

I’m starting to understand those women who devour romance novels. The void they fill. The escape they provide. The fantasies that feed their dreams. The spark of hope they ignite.

I haven’t picked one up yet. But I get it.

 

 

This is unacceptable.

Kubler Ross wrote that acceptance is the final stage of the grief process. A previous blog post dealt with that. https://wordpress.com/post/awidowswalkdotblog.wordpress.com?url=https%3A%2F%2Fawidowswalkdotblog.wordpress.com%2F2017%2F09%2F28%2Fpea-soup%2F&title=Pea%20soup

Getting-to-Acceptance

This post is written almost 3 years after losing my husband John to brain cancer, GBM, glioblastoma multiforme.

Acceptance, by definition requires consent. Taking what is offered. Seeing it as suitable or adequate.

No.

Death is never suitable or adequate. Losing the love of your life to a beast of an illness, watching them suffer and die before your eyes, is not OK. Unacceptable.

Standing by helplessly as your entire world comes crashing down around you. Unacceptable.

Crying out in pain and disbelief, while those who claim to love you cast blame and shame. Unacceptable.

Playing out the clock with fear and agony as each holiday, anniversary, birthday approaches. Knowing you just have to hang on until it passes. Realizing there is another one barreling down the train track, ready to knock you down . Unacceptable.

Knowing you cannot live like this, realizing you didn’t die, and wishing you did. Unacceptable.

Seeking meaning in a world that has gone dark without the one person who gave it light. Unacceptable.

Wrapping your head around the fact that this is forever. He is never ever ever ever ever coming back. He will never ever ever ever drive his truck into the driveway, jog up the back steps, swing open the door and call “Hon ! Where are you, I’m home !” Never ever ever ever again. Unacceptable.

Seeing friends plan joyful weddings, welcome grandchildren. Not for you. That joy will never be yours, a giant piece is always missing. Unacceptable.

Acceptance. Letting it be. Allowing it to be the way it is. Not trying to change it. Knowing you can’t change it. Unacceptable.

The serenity prayer, accept the things I cannot change.

serenity_prayer

 

I’m still working on it.

I am trying to accept,

EXCEPT ………………     I STILL HATE IT.

Acceptance Puzzle Piece Complete Inner Peace Admit Fault Shortco

 

 

 

 

You Don’t Bring Me Flowers

You don’t bring me flowers,

You don’t sing me love songs

BECAUSE YOU’RE DEAD.

This widows’ Valentine message most likely wouldn’t make any money for Hallmark.

So what’s a widow to do on the invented holiday when romantic love is in the air, red hearts and chocolates invade her world? When everywhere she looks she is reminded that she is no longer anyone’s sweetheart?   intertwined hearts

When her own alive, beating, red heart is shattered ?alone val day

While researching for this post I came across a heartwarming article about a lucky widow (now there’s an oxymoron for ya !) whose late husband, before his death,  thoughtfully arranged for an annual delivery of Valentine’s flowers to his wife ad infinitum.roses

Most of us can’t count on that Hallmark movie scene at our own homes, so then, what?

On my first solo intertwined heartsValentines’ Day I made a tiny step towards my new life by rearranging my bedroom furniture. A new comforter set, pillows, and rug were purchased. Then came the tear-inducing task of emptying the drawers and discarding what I could of John’s clothing. His underwear went in the trash, everything else was boxed and stored in the attic for future quilts. Someday. When I’m ready.

I worked myself to exhaustion that day. Once finished, I slept in the bed, our bed, without John, for my first Valentines’ Day alone, with memories of 36 intertwined heartsValentines Days, playing in my head. All the pounds of Phillips Candy House fudge, chocolate covered cherries, for me and the kids. The year I contracted chickenpox, at age 29, looked like hell and still felt like the most beautiful girl in the world as my John brought me candy and told me he loved me, and to stay in bed while he took care of the babies. True love.

Flash forward to our last intertwined heartsValentines Day together. A major snowstorm had delayed our dinner reservations so late that we gave up and drove home, hoping to grab a bite at the little local tavern, only to find it closed early due to snow. A meager dinner of cheese and crackers by the fire at home sufficed and we made up for it the next day with a lovely lunch.

Now I celebrate a combined Valentines Day/Birthday with my black lab Babe, who turns 10 tomorrow. Cheeseburgers for both of us.

John won’t buy me flowers this year, or any year. I will buy flowers for his grave, and a rose or two for me. And chocolates. Because he would want that.

Chocolates and wine for me. At least the major food groups are covered and I have 90 pounds of warm dog in my bed. That and my memories will get me through.

pink-heart-clipart-15.png

 

 

Here it comes…. or Super Bowl 50

Ina few days the NE Patriots face the Philadelphia Eagles in Superbowl LII. (52) I understand the overpaid millionaires will gather on a large field dressed in gladiator type gear and give each other concussions while millions watch via television, consuming mass quantities of food and alcohol. The winning team receives a ring ,  trophy, accolades and product endorsement contracts. All may receive permanent brain injuries, but hey, it’s just a game.

I never paid much attention to my brain until John was diagnosed with glioblastoma, Stage 4 brain cancer. Until then I took for granted that my body would just function as the neurons fired, giving my organs messages. Limbs would move, eyes would blink, liver would cleanse the blood, it would pump, and life would go on without any help from me. My brain had it all under control.

Until that fateful day when John’s brain went haywire and seized, his body functioned perfectly well. But once off track, all bets were off. The fast-growing tumor was in his left frontal lobe, the part of the brain key in movement, language function, decision making, emotional regulation, and personality. In surgery, it was discovered that the tumor had spread to the longitudinal fissure, the line dividing the cerebral hemispheres. If disturbed, the surgery would have left him “not himself”

That fact that the brain makes us who we are was driven home to me by John’s illness. Everything we say or do, our personality, our reactions etc are driven by firing neurons and synapses. The cells formed in utero and their subsequent maturity rule the world.

So if all fires well and nature and nurture cooperate, we become healthy, happy, functioning members of society. We care, we love, we provide, we grow, we ponder, we think, we plan. We make good choices. We make the world a better place and leave our legacy of lives well lived when we depart.

But here’s the deal: we don’t. Our brains are delicate formations of grey matter, easily damaged by environmental toxins, emotional trauma, and sometimes physical trauma.  Today one in six Americans is diagnosed and treated for mental illness.

Yet the stigma persists and shame accompanies the diagnosis, resulting in a vicious cycle for the patient. Where support and compassion are needed, they often find misunderstanding and blame.

Like many diseases, mental illness has a genetic component. In my family that is the case. I am pre-disposed to depression and anxiety and have passed that gene onto my children.

I’ve suffered from the disease my entire life. After my mom’s suicide, I began to treat it, going on and off meds for years until finally accepting the truth that they, along with therapy,  were necessary and life-saving.

John’s illness and death kicked my depression and anxiety in high gear. Four months after he died I suffered what is known as a nervous breakdown. The numbness and disbelief that protected me from the harsh reality of his death were torn away, leaving me naked, alone, terrified and unable to stop crying and worrying. It was horrific. The Stones described it this way:

Well, it seems to me that you have seen too much in too few years.
And though you’ve tried you just can’t hide your eyes are edged with tears.
You better stop, look around,
Here it comes, here it comes, here it comes, here it comes.
Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown.

I ended up in Maclean Hospital where I was hoping to receive intensive inpatient grief therapy. What I got was definitely not that. But that’s another post.

It so happened that the Super Bowl happened during my stay there. Somewhere in that bizarre memory of a “One Flew Over the Cukoos Nest” group gathered in the community room, with bowls of snacks next to the crayons and games, watching tribal entertainment., there is a novel waiting to be written.  I wandered in and out of the room, wondering which group was truly crazy – those incarcerated here or those millions in front of their TV’s at home.

your nocrazier

So there it is – my most surreal Super Bowl memory, one that resurfaces every year at this time. Others are caught up in the hoopla, the pre-game, the rivalry, the recipes.

I’m still trying to swim upstream against the tide of grief that keeps threatening to pull me under. The waves keep crashing over my head, blinding me, while I try to just catch my breath. Trying to maintain my mental health.

 

 

 

Sit with me, awhile

chair

There’s a mellow version of the Christian pop song “Sit With You Awhile” that I was fond of back in my religious days. The lyrics, although directed at God/Jesus, also speak to the empty space the death of spouse leaves:

When I can not feel
When my wounds don’t heal…..

 you are my life
So I don’t mind to die….

Cause I could just sit with you awhile
You could just hold me
Nothing can touch me
ThoughI’m wounded
ThoughI’ve died….

If I could just sit with you awhile
I’d need you to hold me
Moment by moment ’till forever passes by

John’s favorite chair was his recliner. He spent many happy hours there watching TV, playing computer solitaire, snoozing.

He also spent most of the summer of 2015 in that chair, when he wasn’t hospitalized. Though sick, weak and worried, he still enjoyed that chair and the pastimes that kept him occupied, despite his desire to “just go back to work”.

Every time I would pass him as he sat there, I would stop and kiss his head, trying to memorize the smell, the feel of his wispy grey hair. I always teased him that he had the cutest ears on earth. They were perfectly shaped, the right size, and laid nicely against his skull. He believed it was because his mother would turn him from side to side often as a baby. We would laugh about it and I would point out people with bad ears on TV or in public.

When he died, the chair remained in its same spot for months. Sitting in it made me cry, but it also made me feel close to John so my early days of grieving were spent mainly in that chair.

With new furniture came the quandary: what to do with this chair? No room for it with the new sectional. Not ready to toss it with the old sofa. So I lugged it upstairs and kept it in the hallway, knowing that someday it would be time to bring it to the dump.

Today was that day. After two years and three months, it’s time.

Youtube failed me, I had to figure out how to dismantle it on my own, and I did. Figured out how to use a ratchet wrench, much too late, but it made the last 3 bolts a breeze!

I had to cut the upholstery around the bolts to loosen them, and as I did I realized I could cut a nice swatch or whatever size piece from the seat and save it for a future project. It can join all John’s clothes I have boxed for a future quilt. I’m certainly not ready for that emotional tsunami. Someday.

Chairs – so many places, purposes, times. As I was removing the bolts I thought of all the chairs of John’s illness. The chair I sat in beside his ER bed when we got the horrific news of the brain tumor. The many hospital chairs in his room and in the labs waiting for tests. The chair he insisted I sit in the moment he died. That damn chair.

Broken hearts see the vacancy of the empty chair and long for just a few moments of the past, to share a meal, a smile, a hug. To see it full of life and love, even for a moment.

The recliner is no more. It sits in pieces awaiting my scissors, then I will cry as I take it to the dump. This I am certain of.

In my heart, I see John – alive, healthy, happy – in that chair. He is watching the Patriots with a nice plate of snacks I made him. Enjoying life. As I pass by him, I kiss him on the head and he grabs me by the waist and pulls me into his lap for a snuggle. “Sit with me ” he says, “Are you comfortable ?” And even though I’m not, I’m happy and at peace because this is what it’s all about. I snuggle in and we watch the game together.

If I could just sit with you awhile
I’d need you to hold me
Moment by moment ’till forever passes by

Loneliness is such a sad affair.

Long ago and oh so far away,

I fell in love with you…….

 

Sometime in the 70s Karen Carpenter sang it so well, her alto vibrato crying out her unrequited groupie angst.

And like any good love song, the timeless message brings a tear to the eye as we sing along.

Karen’s rock star , the object of her affection, promised he would come back. Told her he loved her. Maybe he was sincere, but Superstars lie.

So, Karen lived with the pain of a broken heart, hoping and wishing her love would return to her as he promised. Meanwhile, she ached for him, remembered how he made her feel, cried and sang this love song that he would most likely never hear.

Widowhood is much the same. Remembering. Aching. Longing. Sadness.

Loneliness. In a room of people, loneliness. Having dinner with friends, loneliness. Taking a class, meeting new people, traveling, loneliness.

Because company is not what’s missing. Interacting with people, laughing, talking, listening, is not what’s missing.

What is missing , who is missing, is your spouse. Your soul mate. Your love. Everyone else is just a poor substitute for what we long for. That one person who knew us better than we knew ourselves. Who could light up our day with a smile, a touch, a word, a look.

And yet those who want us to get better, to heal, to move on, they don’t understand this. It’s like they have removed the filet mignon and replaced it with ground mystery meat, then expect us to just keep eating because after all, food is food and you eat if you’re hungry.

Wrong. No, I lost my appetite for small talk when I watched my husband die. When my life was stolen. When I buried him and our dreams.

Put me in a room with people and you can be sure that despite my nodding and smiling, inside I am screaming, while hoping that maybe this will be the time he will just walk through the door and meet my eyes, come to me, slip his arm around my waist and the world will balance again. No ? Wait, he’s not coming back ? What, wait, I thought …..he loved me. He did. He told me. He promised.

He did. He loved me. Until his last breath, he loved me. Said he wouldn’t leave me.

But he did. He didn’t want to, but he did. For some cosmic reason I still don’t understand, he had to go..

Loneliness is such a sad affair,

and I can hardly wait

to be with you again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do not judge that which you do not understand 

Excellent – wish I had written it

Ready, Set.... Grieve?

Since losing my husband, I have been going through a sort of rebirth.

I have been trying on different hats, looking for what best fits the person that I am now.

I have had some successes. And I have made plenty of errors.

But I own every single one of them.

I do not know what all of the pieces of the “new me” look like, so I am experimenting until I can make myself whole again.

Throughout the past 14 months I have shared bits and pieces of what I am doing with non-widowed people and I have been met with shock and judgment.

And to be honest with you, it hurts.

I do not like the looks of disapproval. I do not like the change in their tone of voice or the questioning look in their eye. I do not like the obvious change in the dynamic of…

View original post 288 more words

Having fun yet ?

I am one week into year 3. Not what I expected at all. When John died I told my therapist that my goal was to not become a widow stuck in grief. Silly me, I had no understanding of the complexities and power of a broken heart. No concept of the devastation losing my love would cause. The havoc and destruction of my entire life. The pieces strewn around like a massive hurricane, tornado and tsunami that struck simultaneously.
All the books I read promised new beginnings, second firsts, a way out of the darkness. Hope. Healing. Acceptance. Peace.
 
They were all wrong. There is no way out. Believe me, I’ve tried. There is no way around grief, only through it. I thought by now I’d be reaching the end of the tunnel, but the light I sometimes glimpse looks more like an oncoming train.
 
I ran into an older widow acquaintance yesterday while out walking. A year ago I wrote about how bitter and angry she was, an example of who I did not want to become. Yesterday she was like a different person, full of life and glowing. She told me all about her recent online dating experiences . As happy as I was for her I cringed.
I’ve looked at those sites, done a bit of window shopping. I don’t want to be alone forever.
 
BUT —–( always pay attention to the words after BUT ) here’s my issue: 
Judgement.
The first step in online dating is creating a personal profile. Beyond choosing a cute and catchy user name, a woman over 55 must market herself to have an edge over the inevitable younger, slimmer, prettier, curvier competition.
As Gypsy Rose Lee said, “You gotta have a gimmick”
And therein lies the first stumbling block.
I’m too old for gimmicks. At 58, I know exactly who I am, and I don’t take criticism kindly.
Popeye put it best:
popeye
Confident enough to put myself out there. Secure enough to accept that I am not everyone’s cup of tea.
The online dating scene reminds me of a department store. Lonely people shopping  for love. You get in your car and drive to the mall, (go online) because you need a pair of pants. (companionship, whatever) You begin browsing through the dozens of racks, hoping to find what you came for:
Size:You have an inkling of what size you need, but maybe you’ve gained a few pounds so you adjust those parameters.
Style: You know what looks good on you, what you are comfortable with, so you skip past those you wouldn’t be caught dead in.
Length: Your short or long legs lead you to either the petite or big and tall section.
Purpose: hiking, dress, casual, sweat, shorts, cargo, jeans —– so many choices ! What do I really need ? What do I really want ? Maybe I should try a new style, break out of my comfort zone ? No, wait, that’s scary, I’ll just stick with what I know.
Next stop, dressing room.  (online chatting or texting) You try the pants , check the fit, the length. Chances are you got it wrong, so you quickly rip them off and try the next pair.
Wrong again, ouch those hurt. Can’t even sit down in those.
Another pair, you can’t even get your ankle through the leg. Throw them on the floor.
Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Surely the next pair will fit, they are 2 sizes too big and even though you would never dream of actually wearing them, you need pants god damn it. So you put them on. They are baggy, ugly, and hide your body in a way that’s hideously comfortable. You could throw these in the dryer and even if they shrink, it’s ok because they are too big anyway. They don’t go with anything else you own but so what, maybe you need new shirts and jackets and shoes anyway. Of course, a whole new me !
Exhausted, you return all your hope to the rack outside the dressing room, and settle for just one pair of ugly pants. And you rejoice that you can stop for ice cream on the way home because of the huge waistband.
You throw the pants, still in the bag, on the bottom of your closet at home. Disgusted with yourself, you know you deserve better. Maybe you’ll return them. No, wait, it will be good to have a pair of fat pants this winter, just in case.
Meanwhile……………………………………
There is someone similar to you, shopping for the perfect pair of pants.
They know exactly what they want. Something flashy, adorable, colorful and form fitting. Something that will make them look and feel younger, slimmer, more attractive. Something they would be proud to be seen in, something they could wear to a party and receive approving glances from friends and strangers. Something people would stop and stare at, wondering how he got so lucky.
Something he could wear hiking, or on his speed boat, or his Mercedes convertible, or his yacht. Something that would show off his perfect teeth, his investment portfolio, his hair plugs. His fake tan.
You are not those pants.
You are you, faded, comfortable, patched, and worn. Waistband is stretched. You are proud to be you. You don’t care if you aren’t stylish, hip and flashy. Your greatest accomplishment is not coming apart at the seams after years of rough wear. You are content to be left on the rack.
 
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